Spotlight: Charlot Magayi of Mukuru Clean Stoves

I am confident that household gender norms will change over time. From my perspective, a lot of men are realising that by allowing their wives to work, they can ease the financial burden of being the only provider

Once men realise their wives can earn an income for something she is already doing for free in the house, they become the ones vouching for women to get jobs. Once husbands and their wives are both working, it gives them more time to spend with their children, given their financial constraints lessen. This empowers everyone in the household.

Charlot Magayi, Founder and CEO of Mukuru Clean Stoves, is a world-class social entrepreneur who has spent the last three and a half years promoting the benefits of clean cookstoves to women and their families. In 2018, the World Bank’s global SDGs and Her Competition recognised her effort to advance SDG1 (No Poverty), SDG3 (Good Health), and SDG8 (Decent Work). Most recently, Charlot was selected as a Waislitz Global Citizen Awardee for her innovative work expanding access to clean stoves in Mukuru, Kenya.

Tell us about your work in clean energy access and what motivated you to start Mukuru Clean Stoves?

There was one key event in my life that eventually led me to start Mukuru Clean Stoves: the day my baby was burned by a traditional stove. After that day, I started thinking about cooking solutions that posed less of a safety risk to children in the household. Upon further research, I found out that child burns were not even the worst risk associated with open-flame cooking, but rather, household air pollution (HAP). HAP results from burning solid fuels, such as wood, charcoal, and agricultural waste, in open fires and traditional stoves. Burning these fuels exposes families to air pollution at levels as much as 50 times greater than the World Health Organisation guidelines for clean air. After learning this, I developed an interest in environmental science, which I eventually went to school for. Based on my personal and educational experiences up to that point, I became inspired to develop better cooking technologies for mothers in my community, which led me to start Mukuru Clean Stoves in 2017 in Nairobi. By creating and promoting clean cook stoves, I am working to address three problems: excessive fuel consumption, HAP, and children’s burn injuries.

Not only are 100% of Mukuru Sales Agents women, but also 85% live in the communities that they serve. How did you go about achieving this high level of community engagement, and how has it impacted your business operations?

Since the target market for our cookstoves are women living in low-income housing, we found it most helpful to have women from these communities selling our products to other women — their neighbours, friends, etc. We have found the most success in finding our sales agents by working with women’s social groups. We target the most popular groups in different communities and educate them on HAP and the benefits of clean cooking. From these groups, at least 70% of women already own their own businesses. We then train these women as our sales agents and early adopters.

Our women sales agents generally have reputable standing in their communities and they are often the leaders in their markets, which helps spread awareness and drive cookstove purchases. We have found much success with emphasising the benefits our cookstoves offer to mothers and their children — not only do they reduce HAP, but they also dramatically reduce the risk for child burns. Since our sales agents interact with their communities on a daily basis, they know the existing needs and speak the same language. Our agents have been key in informing us on what our target market needs from us as a business.

Outside of the sales agents, our entire senior management team is also made up of women. The only place that men come in is in the production of the cookstoves. Men represent 45% of the entire production team. We are currently educating and training women to be able to do the same tasks as men, so that our products can be for and made by women.

How do you see this shift in perspective contributing to a change in household gender norms over time?

I am confident that household gender norms will change over time. From my perspective, a lot of men are realising that by allowing their wives to work, they can ease the financial burden of being the only provider. As a result, men are realising that it’s in their best interest to encourage and empower their wives to create their own sources of income. Mukuru Clean Stoves is already starting to see this transition: our male employees have been speaking up about their wives’ abilities to make stoves and requesting that they receive training to begin work.

So far, we have found that since women are typically the ones that do the molding work in their houses, for example, they are better at certain functions of creating the stoves than the men. Once men realize their wives can earn an income for something she is already doing for free in the house, they become the ones vouching for women to get jobs. Empowering women through earning an income is leading to a change in the way men see their wives, and it is my hope that this will lead to an overall perspective shift in household gender norms over time.

Roughly 4 million people are dying each year from household air pollution. How does Mukuru Clean Stoves play a role in reducing that number specifically from a gendered standpoint?

Not only do our products play a substantial role in reducing this number by eliminating HAP, our products also disproportionately benefit women and girls. By reducing the amount of time that they must spend collecting firewood and other fuels, girls are able to spend more time doing their homework and staying up-to-date in school and women have more time to participate in income-generating activities.

Affordability is a key barrier to the adoption of clean cook stoves in rural and slum communities. How do you specifically work with women to afford Mukuru clean stoves? What kind of financial mechanism or policy would you like to see to support the clean cooking industry?

When I first started my business, I realized that most people could not afford the standard $50 clean cookstove. To innovate, I decided to use strong recycled material in order to lower the cost of our stoves down to $10 each. This made the product more financially accessible. One thing I have noticed is that when organisations and NGOs provide clean stoves for free, people tend not to use them as often. Unless the customer chooses to make the investment, they typically do not actively use the products.

Personally, I believe the most impactful way to help women gain access to poverty-alleviating products is by partnering with financial institutions. Given the challenges that women still face in creating and owning a bank account, including the struggles they face in getting their husbands’ permission to do so, we must target our efforts towards women groups. Many of these women groups are eligible to become officially registered with local financial institutions. Once this happens, the financial institutions are able to provide loans that the groups can distribute among their members.

From what we have seen so far, when financial institutions provide loans to groups, and not to individuals, men are less likely to see these actions as a threat to them. While this is certainly progress, in order to achieve greater gender equality in off-grid and rural settings, it will be crucial to help men see the benefit of women having the power to make purchasing decisions on their own.

What trends do you foresee for the future of gender empowerment and equality when it comes to the off-grid appliance sector?

We are starting to see an immense shift in thinking around how much involvement women need to have in their communities. In a few years, I think we are going to see men wanting to be more “hands off” and allowing women to make major decisions. I hope men will want to become more involved in making their households and communities more equitable when it comes to gendered tasks over time.

These insights are impacting the way we do business at Mukuru Clean Stoves. For our corporate team to accelerate the adoption of clean stoves and other clean energy products, we want to work with men so they can see the benefits of owning these products themselves. We do not want to find ways to go around men to reach women. As this landscape continues to change over time, I believe we can fast track adoption of clean energy products by involving men in the way we do business, while also empowering women to make purchases and sales.

What advice would you give to individuals trying to raise awareness about disparity in energy access and use by gender?

I think the biggest piece of advice for people wanting to raise awareness on these topics is to go beyond social media. When relying on social media platforms to spread your message, you are catering only to those who have access to the internet. I would like to see a greater shift towards reaching people in off-grid and slum communities, as these people would benefit from using clean energy products the most, and trying to accomplish that via social media will not work.


The Changemakers in Energy Access series spotlights both women and men whose work is deeply committed to championing gender equality and empowerment in the off-and-weak-grid energy access space. This series seek to represent the key lessons learned throughout the Appliances Empower campaign, a global campaign by Efficiency for Access to develop deep linkages between energy access, gender equality and social inclusion. Keep up with Charlot’s impactful work by following her on LinkedIn and following Mukuru Clean Stoves’ Twitter account.